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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

South Huntington Corridor Under Study and “Development Footprint”

March 1st, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Wednesday night I attended a public meeting held by the Boston Redevelopment Authority Planning Division regarding their ongoing South Huntington Avenue Corridor Study.  The planning team’s first cut, in which they summarized community concerns and presented concepts to be formalized into guidelines, was generally well received by the audience. Comments were constructive rather than combative and the overall tone was positive, which will hopefully lead to a constructive and effective process and drive continued community-engaged planning efforts here and in other parts of the city.

It was great to see Chief City Planner, Kairos Shen, in attendance, engaged, and answering questions, demonstrating that the city is giving this effort some serious attention. Certainly it would have been better had this process occurred before plans were approved for the Home for Little Wanderers site (the original building dates from 1914 – if the approved project moves forward it will be mean the loss of a century-old Boston institutional landmark and a build-out over essentially the full extent of the site).  Nevertheless, this planning process is moving quickly and we were told the new guidelines will influence plans for projects already or soon-to-be in the pipeline, including a proposal for a large housing project at 105A South Huntington and the anticipated new ownership of the currently vacant Goddard House, another historic building for which the Alliance is concerned. We certainly can’t lost another significant building in this region.

One planning tool being proposed is a new measure of site usage/density called “development footprint.”  Adding to commonly-used guidelines on height and FAR (floor to area ratio), this new measure brings another perspective and a new tool to help examine the impact of new development.  FAR tells only part of the story about how a site is to be used.  For example, a building taking up the entire site and one story gives the same FAR as a 2-story building taking up 1/2 the lot … or a 4 story building on 1/4 the site, etc. All of these have an FAR of 1, but they have very different impacts on the site, the streetscape and the character of the neighborhood.  The new metric, development footprint, provides a better picture of the impact of construction at the street level by taking into account the percentage of the site developed including parking lots, among other subsidiary uses. Take look at some of the draft diagrams presented by the BRA.

We were pleased to see that the planners looked at the historic development of the area and how the way lots were divided and built initially established the character of the area by dividing it into the three zones that exist today. The planning team has wisely divided the site into three “districts,” recognizing the non-homogeneity of the corridor and its differing character along the nearly mile-long stretch of road.

We look forward to further refinement of this South Huntington plan and the opportunity to weigh in on another, more developed draft. We also look forward to  participating in additional planning efforts that work to preserve the special character of Boston’s neighborhoods.

Check out the BRA web site for all the details:

A few images from the BRA presentation are below:

Historic Development

FAR (Floor area ratio)



Development Footrpint





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